So, where to start? Father buries son, the two both acclaimed artists, both arguably difficult to love as people and who seemingly found it hard to love each other, both riddled with demons and overly familiar with self-medication. Too much cliché there, I fear, the sort that leads to declarations of relief that the son’s OD was accidental. Like that helps anyone.
So let’s start with the barer facts. Justin Townes Earle was a mighty fine songwriter. His father, Steve, still is. Earle Sr. has only made three covers albums, this the third, all tributes. The first two, Townes (Van Zandt) and Guy (Clark), are dedicated to his two greatest influences, who both happened also to be friends and mentors of his and of each other. Check out their live joint benefit album Together at the Bluebird Cafe for proof of that. No coincidence in how he named his firstborn. My sort of clumsy point is that Earle doesn’t pay tribute lightly: you gotta be pretty damn good at your trade to get his nod. J.T. was pretty damn good, and J.T., Steve Earle’s tribute to him (released on what would have been his 39th birthday), is all the proof of that you need.